A short eared owl flew over me and, since it totally ignored my presence, I was able to watch it for half an hour hunting on the coastal edge. I wondered if it was a newly arrived migrant from across the North Sea. It was a successful hunter and caught two voles in twenty minutes and I have to say, it was absolutely perfect in its shape and form, a designer bird in every sense with its criss-cross facial markings, barred tail and flecked nape, long wings. In the instant I took to recognise this bird, I forgot all my human concerns and put into perspective the festive challenges such as Christmas shopping and decorating. Isn’t wildlife wonderful?
Such an encounter as this is also priceless. What is an experience like this actually worth in monetary terms? Should we even think of nature as an economic commodity, isn’t it just intrinsically of value? Well, yes it is, and perhaps we shouldn’t in an ideal world. But ours is not ideal and far from natural any more. I have just come back from a global conference held in Edinburgh looking at the true value of nature and how we can get big business and commerce engaged with trying to conserve species and habitats. The feeling now is that to do this we need to engage economists and business people in their own economic language and get nature figured on the balance sheet. As one speaker said, if it’s not there it doesn’t have a perceived value, it is worthless and easily disregarded. In some places this has meant that by valuing in real terms the importance of natural systems, to irrigate land, or manage flood water, or using natural barriers to protect areas, can be seen to save costs for companies, providing ‘natural capital’ solutions to their problems; so by investing in creating habitat, wildlife and business benefit together in some cases. It’s about working with not against nature. If we need to frame wildlife and nature in these terms to get business on board, then fine. I still reckon that short eared owl is priceless though!